President's Column - May 2018


“Civility.” That’s a word I want to plug in this month’s column. It’s a short column because I am facing a barrage of work-related deadlines in my legal practice. But what makes it all tolerable is civility in my profession and in the workplace. A lawsuit is by definition an intractable dispute among people or businesses, so we have courts that apply the rule of law to maintain civility. Now, sometimes I do face a lawyer for the opposing party (usually from out-of-state!) who thinks that being difficult will give him or her an advantage. That is mistaken. One thing I’ve learned about Connecticut is that most of my Connecticut legal peers, even when our clients are locked in a legal battle, are civil and professional and make Connecticut a wonderful place for the legal profession. Connecticut is, as you all know, a small world, and lawyers who are opposed to me on one case might be working alongside me on another one, or working on a project with me for a legal organization like the bar association.

It is a shame that our political world has lost the civility that had long been a hallmark of legislative and executive life and tradition. Has it improved anyone’s political standing, the ability to get things done, or the lives of the politicians and their constituents? I think not. Now, there were exceptions in history to this civility, like the 1856 caning of Senator Sumner by Rep. Brooks, a dispute that foreshadowed the larger divisions that led to Civil War. Civil discourse has greatly improved since then, but we risk too much by forgetting the benefits of civility.

To help all of us continue to engage in meaningful and respectful exchanges within our communities, TBT is presenting a program entitled “How to Talk to Each Other: Effective Communication about Differences.” If you are reading this in late April, please join us at TBT on Sunday, April 29, 2018, at 9:30 a.m. to hear from two expert TBT members, Nancy Abramson, MSW, and Rosemary Baggish, MPH, about how to talk and discuss issues in a divided, polarized country. You’ll even get to enjoy a light brunch.

I also hope to see you all on Tuesday, May 22, 2018, for our congregation’s Annual Meeting. An update on the building project will be on the agenda, along with the usual information and honors. Come at 7:00 p.m. for dessert and attend the 90-minute program from 7:15 to 8:45 p.m.

- Jeff Babbin

Rabbi's Column - May 2018

What is Jewish music? Music has been a part of our tradition since Biblical times. We chant from our Torah scroll; we pray in music; we grieve with music; we rejoice with music. Jewish musical styles extend from folk to classical to klezmer to Broadway. What makes it Jewish? Is it the composer? The singer? The religiousness? How about all of the above! We have two extraordinary musical programs coming up at TBT – come be a part of making Jewish history.

Rabbi Offner

Sunday, May 6, 2018 at 1 PM hear internationally renowned singer and teacher Joey Weisenberg at TBT. Program is free and open to the public. Excellent experience for all ages! (Lunch at 12 noon, free to TBT members; nominal charge for others)

Saturday, June 2, 2018 at 6 PM join us for a Kosher BBQ and a special musical program with Cantor Margolius and Jason Gaines who will share the story of the Jews as told through Broadway music.

President's Column - April 2018

It was exciting to see over a hundred of our congregants at our March 11th congregational meeting, to learn about our synagogue renewal project. The Rabbi delivered an inspirational message linking our past to the future, Bruce Topolosky explained the work of the Building Committee and how the needs of our building and community are being examined and documented, and our architect Duo Dickinson sought to help us visualize a building and landscape (and parking!) that will both serve and inspire us.

We also heard about our pending purchase of our adjacent property along Route 79, 206 Durham Road, to give us much greater flexibility for the project and an expansion of our frontage along the main road. Our fundraising consultant Peter Heller introduced himself, as we soon embark on a campaign to strengthen the financial foundation of our community, which will reflect the commitment and investment of our congregants. From this great start, taking into account both your ideas and concerns, our Building Committee will be very active in the coming months to develop schedules and timelines and work with the architect to produce design options to share with the congregation and ultimately to be considered by the Board.

Rest assured that your Board and Clergy are fully committed to the present as well as the future, with all synagogue services, education, lifecycle events, and social activities proceeding without interruption or diminishment (even if temporary space will be planned for as needed). All planning will be done with deliberation and in consultation with the congregation. The results will not disappoint.

Please save the date of Tuesday, May 22, 2018, for our congregation’s Annual Meeting. An update on the building project will be on the agenda, along with the usual information and honors. Due to scheduling issues, we will have an evening meeting instead of our usual Sunday morning gathering. Come at 7:00 p.m. for dessert and attend the 90-minute program from 7:15 to 8:45 p.m.

A shout-out to the efforts of our Social Justice Committee in organizing TBT’s participation in the Guilford gathering of the national March for Our Lives event, held on March 24th.
As you read this, I hope you are enjoying your celebration of Pesach and, just perhaps, the beginnings of some sign of spring in Connecticut!

- Jeff Babbin

Rabbi's Column - April 2018

We are in the middle of Bar Mitzvah season here at TBT. Thank God, we are blessed with packs of families with 13 year olds. Last week, this week, next week – in fact, we have a Bar or Bat Mitzvah to celebrate every single Shabbat from now right through June.

They are always exhilarating. One of the things I love about them is that you get to see yourself through the eyes of others – family and friends, Jews and non-Jewish people too, who are visiting TBT for the first time. One of the nicest compliments that I receive after the service often goes like this: “Oh Rabbi, your synagogue is amazing. It is so warm and loving and intimate and accessible. If I lived here, I would join here. It is so warm, open, intimate and accessible.” That is why we are here today. We are here to celebrate that we are warm and open and intimate and accessible. And we are here because it is time to make sure that our building and our property and our bricks and mortar all reflect just those Jewish values that we so passionately embrace as a community.

It is time to make our building warmer, more open, more intimate and more accessible. We’ve earned that. We deserve that. And it is our responsibility to ensure that for the generations that come after us. Forty years is a long time. Our building is aging. It has cracks, some literal and some figurative. It is not easy to find from the road. It is not easy to drive up into the parking lot. It is not easy to walk from the parking lot to the building. It is not easy to open the front door. It is not easy to find your way, once inside, to the sanctuary, to the rabbi’s study, to the youth lounge.

Accessibility is a Jewish value. A Jewish imperative. We say: “Hamitzvah hazot lo ba’shamayim hi; hi karov aleycha me’od.” (Deut 30:12-14) “The mitzvah of Jewish practice is not up in the Heavens, we don’t make it hard, we place it close to you.” It is time to make coming to the synagogue easy. Picture an easy entrance right off the road. An easy drive into the parking lot. An Open Door and a Welcoming Entrance.

Hidur Mitzvah is also a Mitzvah. It is a Jewish value to beautify what we treasure. There are so many ways that we can beautify our synagogue. With art. With color. With height. With light. With windows.

The most exquisite piece of this synagogue building is what sits outside of its walls. The exquisite piece of nature that God created. The trees and the leaves and the sky and the sunshine. Let us take advantage of that! It is a requirement that a sanctuary have windows. (Mishnah Berurah) We can have windows that are big and wide and open to the world around us.

Our synagogue should be accessible. Not because the government requires accessibility, but because we are Jews and our tradition demands it. The Book of Psalms says of the aged: “Don’t cast me off as I age.” We are all aging, and without insulting our founders I can tell you for a fact that each and every one of them is precisely 40 years older than they were 40 years ago. Our bathrooms are not handicap accessible. It is a ‘bousha,’ (that’s Hebrew for ‘shonda’). But it need not be that way any longer. We can make our bathrooms handicap accessible. We can make our bima handicap accessible. We can make every square inch of our building easier to navigate and more spiritually uplifting to experience.

Our building is beautiful. Our founders created a space that has served us amazingly well for 40 years. It is time to re-envision. It is time to dream. It is time to build, to build upon that which has already been built, to build upon the shoulders of those who came before us, to build a synagogue that says “HERE WE ARE.” To build a synagogue that says “COME AND JOIN US.” To build a synagogue that is as warm and welcoming and traditional and contemporary and bold and conservative and beautiful and accessible as we are.

Rabbi Abraham Kook, the first rabbi of Palestine, as he contemplated the enterprise of building a state of Israel, famously said: HaYashen Tichadesh v’Ha Chadash Tikadesh. The old shall be renewed, and the new shall be made holy.

The time is now, for building and rebuilding together.

Rabbi Offner
(This column was excerpted from Rabbi Offner’s remarks at the Congregational Meeting on March 11, 2018)

President's Column - March 2018

Shalom. We cannot wait until the Sunday, March 11th congregational meeting to share with you all how our synagogue renewal project is coming along. Come nosh with your fellow congregants at 9:30 a.m. and then learn what the many volunteers on our Building Committee and their supporting cast have been up to when putting their heads, hearts, and talents together in service to our community. Come hear the choices examined and the vision for the future. A must-see will be the large-scale model and the aerial drone footage of our property presented by our architect Duo Dickinson. It will be an engaging and informative morning, to wake you up after losing an hour’s sleep from going on daylight savings time.

March also brings us the Passover Seder – yes, in March, not April! Never too early to plan to spend your Second Seder with your fellow TBT congregants at our communal Seder on Saturday evening, March 31.

While we can take delight from our synagogue community, we also cannot ignore the sad news around us. Our synagogue and nursery school mourn our nursery school graduate Ethan Song, the Guilford High School freshman who passed away in tragic circumstances in recent weeks. Then we had the national news of the events in Parkland, Florida. We certainly need a new national conversation about guns and public safety. I hope that as many people as possible take this opportunity to engage in the civic advocacy and public discourse necessary to move our nation to a sounder and safer footing.

- Jeff

Rabbi's Column - March 2018

From the Maxwell House Haggadah to the “10-Minute Seder,” there are more editions and publications of haggadot for Passover than there are prayerbooks for any other Jewish holiday…by far.

Why are there so many types and varieties of Haggadot? Which haggadah will you be using around your seder table? Will you buy a haggadah, find one on the internet, create your own – even use a PowerPoint haggadah instead of a hard copy?

There are literally thousands of Haggadot to choose from because Passover is a holiday that speaks to the quintessential creation story of our people. It is the story of a journey – from slavery to freedom, from degradation to respect, from despair to exhilaration, from darkness to light.

This theme which is at the center of Jewish life speaks to all human beings who yearn to be free. That is why Passover has been the holiday that has generated a Freedom Seder, a Civil Rights Seder, a Women’s Seder and an Immigration Seder. On Passover we sit around our seder tables and take the journey ourselves, recalling our enslavements and tasting of a world where all humanity are free.

Interestingly enough, the Maxwell House Haggadah reveals a classic American story. It was first printed in 1931 when Jewish immigrants to the United States were yearning for recognition and affirmation of their American standing. That Maxwell House wanted to market to the Jewish community was a sign of having ‘made it’ in America. As a part of an ad campaign for their coffee, Maxwell House offered their Haggadah free with the purchase of coffee. The campaign also helped dissuade some in the Jewish community of the mistaken understanding that coffee (because it is a ‘bean’), is not kosher for Passover. The coffee bean is a berry; not a legume. Talk about success stories – there are now over 50 million copies of the Maxwell House Haggadah in print!

There are many other free Haggadot worthy of exploration. Just go to to make your own step-by-step Haggadah. There are also some beautiful haggadot for purchase. “A Passover Haggadah,” with illustrations by Leonard Baskin, is a personal favorite. So too the “Gates of Freedom” Haggadah, edited by Rabbi Chaim Stern.

You can find a Haggadah for scholars and one for kids and another for seekers. The most important point is that there is a Haggadah for you. As Passover approaches, exploring the many possibilities for how to tell the story is as important as the telling of the story. Let all who are hungry come and eat. Let all who are hungry for the telling and the retelling of our sacred story, reflect upon the many choices of Haggadot that are before us. May we choose wisely as we prepare for the sacred task of reliving our people’s journey from slavery to freedom.

Rabbi Offner

President's Column - February 2018

Shalom. The Jewish people have historically provided a home for refugees and aid to those in need. I would like to mention a couple of examples of that mission from this past month. First, I am pleased that TBT’s participation in the Shoreline Interfaith Refugee Resettlement group (SHIRR) has led to our sponsoring another refugee family arriving on January 25 (just a few days after I’m writing this column – and my twin daughters’ 18th birthday, if I can throw that in!). The family of 3 from Afghanistan will have a Branford apartment near the center of town. As reported in our TBT weekly Shofar blast, TBT needs to raise $3,500 to honor its financial commitment to help resettle the family, and I am confident that our congregants will fund that commitment.

I also recently attended a special briefing in New Haven, organized by the Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven, by William Recant, the Assistant Executive Vice-President of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC). Invited guests heard Dr. Recant speak passionately and eloquently of the JDC’s mission and accomplishments over several decades, providing aid, medicine, social support, and rescue operations (as needed) to Jewish and other communities around the world. Dr. Recant’s work in this field goes back to assisting with the airlift of Ethiopian Jews to Israel, but more recently the JDC has needed to intervene to assist Jews in need during the current crisis in Venezuela (among many more examples too numerous to mention here). The JDC is a partner agency of the Jewish Federations of Greater New Haven, and hearing of its work makes one proud to be part of the greater Jewish community.

I am also proud to say that many of our congregants (adults and children) recently participated in the various one-year anniversary Women’s Marches held in multiple cities. I fully expect to see and hear of many more efforts by our congregants to both promote social justice and assist people and communities in need.

- Jeff

Rabbi's Column - February 2018

As you read these words, I will be back from my January sabbatical. As I write them, I am with you from afar, wanting to share my gratitude for this precious time and wanting to let you know a bit about how I have spent my time. It is a privilege to be able to have shifted my focus from the daily tasks of work and life in order to live fully in a different kind of present, where clutter is cleared from the landscape and perspective is sharpened.

During my month away, I discovered that it isn’t so easy to let go and allow the present moment to envelop in such a fashion that tasks recede and living expands. How do we fill our lives? How do we shape each day? Too often, we allow the day to shape us. Tasks that have to get done take precedence. Events that happen to us consume our time before we get to decide how we would choose to use our time.

I have chosen to spend much of my time studying the texts of Jewish Mysticism. I look forward to sharing what I have learned with you as I am developing a 4-week Lunch & Learn on Jewish Mysticism. Do mark your calendars now for the 4 Wednesdays in April at noon for our class. The challenge of making life meaningful has been with us forever. In our age we have unique challenges – like those that technology has created for us – but there have always been distractions in life and there have always been efforts to clear those distractions so we can create lives of meaning. Jewish Mysticism is based on the belief that we humans can attain a consciousness that leads us to experience awe and wonder at any moment. It is the simplest of opportunities because it is right before us all the time, but it is the hardest of endeavors because we humans are so easily distracted. The Jewish mystics dedicated their lives, their study, their every-day routines, to achieve a level of consciousness that they described as an experience of the Divine. I have been spending much of my time reading the texts of Jewish mysticism and discovering just how hard and challenging but also how compelling the language of mysticism is.

Consider this. We are all familiar with the 121st psalm. We often recite this psalm at times of tragedy or loss. We say: “I lift my eyes to the heavens, from where (m’ayin in the Hebrew) will my help come? The mystics say no. We’ve got it wrong. Look again. The word ‘m’ayin,’ which we think so obviously means ‘from where?’ could also be pronounced ‘m’ayn’ which translates as ‘from Nothing.’ It is not a question at all; it is an answer. Where does our help come from? From Nothing. Our help comes from Nothing. What the mystics are suggesting is that ‘Nothingness’ is at the center – not in a nihilistic way, but to remind us that no thing is crucial, rather it is being itself that is crucial.

I have been personally focused on the challenge of being more and doing less. It is easier to do while away. Even then, it is not so easy for distractions rise like the mist on the waters. You sometimes don’t even notice that they are distractions, but they are always there.

This has been a precious time for me. I have had time for learning and time for rest and time for fun. Being full-time with Nancy has been the best of blessings. It has been a privilege to be away from the constant demands of the rabbinate, but it is also from afar that it becomes so clear how precious our TBT community is.

I return to you invigorated and excited about all of our upcoming adventures at hand: our congregational trip to Israel, our re-imagining of our building and strengthening and beautifying it for the future, our marking together of Jewish time and celebrating Shabbat together each week, and being with you to celebrate your lives, the peaks and the valleys, to celebrate the awe and wonder of life together.

L'Shalom - 
Rabbi Offner

President's Column - January 2018

Shalom. In contrast to the cold, snowy weather as I’m writing this in mid-December, I have experienced the warmth of several wonderful community events this month. Our TBT communal Chanukah dinner and service - attended by about 150 congregants, including many children - was a joy to behold, and our Mitzvah Day at religious school was equally uplifting. The collective spirit of our children at these events warmed up the coldest days.

An even bigger gathering was the Biennial conference for the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), where I spent a few days in Boston in early December with over 5,000 fellow Reform Jews from across the United States and Canada (including seven of us from TBT!). If there was ever any question about the spirit and vibrancy of Reform Judaism, going to Biennial will dispel those doubts. (You will all have another chance two years from now in Chicago!) Among all the learning sessions, talks, services, and entertainment was an important sermon by URJ President Rick Jacobs discussing the growth of Reform Judaism in Israel and the determined fight to ensure its rightful place in Israeli society and law, along with useful perspectives on the status of Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Closer to home, we will have an important opportunity to learn about our exciting synagogue building project, and its current status and options, at a congregational meeting scheduled for Sunday morning, March 11th. Please follow the progress of our project in the monthly update in Shofar newsletter and put the March 11th gathering on your calendars.

- Jeff Babbin

Rabbi's Column - January 2018

It is hard to believe that I am already in my 6th year at TBT. In anticipation of soon being in my 7th year, the Board of Directors and I have been in discussion about possible Sabbatical time. Given the very full schedule of events, it seemed best to break up any sabbatical time into smaller parts - hence, we have agreed upon a first step of one month of sabbatical time to be taken January 1-31, 2018.

My first priority is to assure coverage for the congregation during the time that I will be away. Cantor Margolius will be in charge of all clergy needs. Cantor Margolius has already demonstrated his strong skills and the congregation will be in very good hands. Leading our congregation is a team effort and so I also want to thank our Administrator, Kim Romine and Administrative Assistant, Bonnie Mahon for stepping up and making sure everything is seamless, as always.

The notion of a sabbatical comes directly from the Jewish value of ‘shavat vayinafash,’ to stop in order to replenish. I feel blessed to be the rabbi of TBT. It is a privilege to be present with so many times of great intimacy, joy and even sadness, in your lives. I love leading worship, teaching Torah, officiating at life cycle events, engaging with the greater Shoreline community, representing the Jewish community to interfaith endeavors, and providing pastoral care to our congregants. I take very seriously the import of my being available at times of need, not only on a full-time basis, but virtually on an all-the-time basis.

While I am energized by the demands of my work, I am also aware of the need to tend to my own professional and spiritual development. I realize that I am hungry for a period of time to replenish my spiritual reserves and better serve the congregation. The rabbis teach the concept: “livnot u’l’hi-banot,” that is, we can best help to build up others, when we build up ourselves.

What will I do? In some ways, my goal is to ‘do’ less and ‘be’ more. Nancy and I will be out-of-town, hoping to power off in order to recharge. I have a long list of reading material, which I am eager to shape into Adult Education courses upon my return.

I am very grateful to the Board of Directors for its support and blessing. I am grateful to you as well for your enthusiasm. The months go by quickly; I am sure that I will be back in what seems like a flash. At the same time, I hope something of this sabbatical will last forever.

Rabbi Offner